for Mrs. Ples
working diligently on my reading, trying to get things organized in
the abstract, for I have left my planning book at home, not wishing
to risk either losing it or subjecting it to prying eyes," Jim Michener
wrote from Honolulu two weeks after we ended our initial brainstorming
sessions in May 1978.
tackled dozens of books from my library with gusto. A few illuminating
critiques of South African works read in the early stages of his research:
Burden of the Present is carefully written, makes a few
good points worth remembering, and suffers grievously from not having
included Afrikaans historian ... sort of like Hamlet without
the prince. I found his final chapter quite pompous and self-evident:
Historians should be good historians."
and Pfukani's high school text (History of Southern Africa)
is a splendid modern summary, almost good enough for college freshmen.
Devoutly one wishes it were obligatory study for students across
the Republic of South Africa. (I was amused to see that the authors,
like all sensible men who know their material, I should judge, come
to the same organizing conclusion that we did: follow the Dutch
to Piet Retief; double back to pick up the Zulu; move forward with
the Trek. I wish I were working those three chapters right now.)
But even this book lacks the bite which would come in showing the
Dutch actually acquiring their historic attitudes."
of Prinsloosdorp (by Douglas Blackburn, a rare work of fiction
Michener read while researching the novel) is one of those haughty
frolics that every nation should produce in every century. It reminds
me of Tomas Roucault's (sic, Raucat) Honorable Picnic
about Japan, and some Englishman's Haji Baba about Persia.
But I was surprised at how little additional material Blackburn
adds to what one already knows if he's done considerable background
study. I like his sparing but effective use of Afrikaans words and
judge that each writer ought to select a few crisp ones essential
to his narrative and forego the rest. But I don't think they should
be given in italic. In fact, I think our list should go even further
and indicate with an asterisk those Afrikaans words which have already
passed into our big English dictionaries as English words. What
ones they are I don't know but would guess veld, laager, trek but
not sjambok, Nachtmaal, or Rooinek.
Tribe to Township is much too episodic for my present
needs: I want distillations of encyclopedia articles! But it is
perceptive, and when one is finished one has a heavy feeling regarding
the impossible burdens placed upon the men and women making the
spent a month in South Africa seven years earlier, producing his New
York Times article on the Five Warring Tribes, but the
vast project now in mind made it imperative that he return and trek
to the settings we envisaged for the novel. Between May and November
1978, his busy schedule included trips from Maryland to Honolulu, New
York to Poland and London, Philadelphia to China, plus weeks spent shooting
a TV series on Sports in America. - The weeks between July
9 to August 19, 1978 were kept open for a research trip in Africa.
left my post as editor-in-chief of Reader's Digest in Cape
Town the year before and moved to the U.S. with my family. I could've
gone back as Jim's guide but decided instead to assign a local editor
and writer as his leg man. Philip Bateman had been on my staff at the
Digest and was then working as a freelancer; he'd shown a
flair for history in articles I commissioned him to write for the magazine.
His assignment would be two-fold: to accompany Michener on his tour
and later to act as my main contact in South Africa for fact-checking
and ongoing research.
draft itinerary I suggested to Bateman embodies the kind of foot-slogging
that's key to mastering a subject as vast as South Africa - or Brazil,
for that matter. (See Brazil:
The Making of a Novel, The Journey.)
1, 1978 - Letter to Philip Bateman
Itinerary for James A. Michener
assume that you have been able to establish a "holding
pattern" for your other obligations during the time of
his visit. Here are some rough suggestions for an itinerary:
10 - 14
15 - 22 Cape
23 - Aug 5
Land trip from Cape Town to "Eastern Frontier,"
following historical line of progress of white settlement
and Xhosa movement; then through Eastern Cape up to the Orange
Free State, tracing The Great Trek route and taking in Kimberley,
Magersfontein and other Boer War highlights.
6 - Aug 12 Pretoria.
Voortrekker Monument Museum etc. and up to the Northern Transvaal
border. Depending on the security situation - it would have
to be very 'secure' - hop to Zimbabwe Ruin would be valuable.
Return to Johannesburg via the south-eastern Transvaal. Particular
interest in the Hendrina, Lake Chrissie, Vaal source area.
12 - 19
core period of involvement would be July 23 to August 12,
when you're on the road with Jim Michener. It would be valuable
if you were able to meet him in Johannesburg and see him set
up for the first few days there. At that stage, the "research"
accent should be on material on the land and its early evolutionary
processes: Museum of Science and Man, Boshier, Tobias, Dart,
Peter Becker etc. Also contact with De Beers and an
expert an diamonds; he's looking for good, sound material
on the creation, location and incidence of diamonds. Perhaps,
too, if there is such a person up there, contact with Johannesburg
or Pretoria expert on Zimbabwe and the Rozwi. And the Vaal
...I've strong feelings about its value as a sort of River
of Man, a primeval source of the veld's earliest dwellers.
And a side excursion to the Africana Museum? To sum up: At
this opening stage, it's anthropology, geology, the 'living
veld' of old that we're interested in.
Cape Town: Remember, what we're seeking to capture on this
'safari' is depth, authenticity, mood,
atmosphere, color. Above all, quality.
(Both in material and people consulted.) We'd start with the
Van Riebeeck era, the Castle. Contact with the experts on
the Bush people. (That excellent display at the Museum). Groot
Constantia: Obviously a visit with the curator or someone
who really knows and loves the place and can show and tell
about it in substance. Now we are following the expansion
of the early settlement to the Drakenstein Valley. I'd like
him to have the opportunity to overnight in a genuine Cape
Dutch farm, to experience what it was like there. To Franschoek
and the Huguenots; to Stellenbosch.
toward the interior. On the trip to the frontier, special
interest places to be seen from an historical perspective
would be Swellendam, Somerset East, Cradock, Grahamstown,
The Great Fish, Slagter's Nek. You want to really feel as
if you're carrying kruithorings (powder horns,)
rattling sabres, lumbering along with creaking wagon. It's
important that he meet real people, see real
places. Spend time in a small country town meeting with local
Afrikaners, farmers, true descendents of the 1820 settlers.
Stay in ordinary country hotels where he can sound out the
locals. I often feel that on these 'discovery of South Africa'
- or any place for that matter - trips, people don't get a
chance to touch basics but are propelled from one know-it-all
to the next in glassed-in splendor. That's not what Jim Michener
wants! He'd far prefer to sit with coffee and rusks in a Swellendam
voorkamer than some plastic palace.
on the Eastern Frontier, a visit to one of the English (LMS)
mission stations. Through the Free State to Winburg
and later the Boer War sites with special interest in Kimberly
and Magersfontein. Also in the Transvaal, Waterval Bo-and-Onder
where Kruger took leave of his forces to exile. And, again,
a DRC mission station, preferably with school attached.
the above reflects, with the exception of Zimbabwe and the
Bush, a tracing of the white man's paths there will also be
great interest in the coloured people and blacks with emphasis
on the Xhosa of the Eastern Province border war area and in
the Transvaal, close to Natal, the Zulu. But Jim Michener
will be better able to detail to you his needs in that area.
this stage, we'd welcome your thoughts on a draft itinerary,
balanced to offer a broad perspective on history and, time
allowing, a decent portioning between 'looking' and talking.
It should set a reasonable, not exhaustive pace. Jim Michener
would like to go about his work in a quiet, well-ordered manner.
Just the two of you in many instances, ferreting out material
and experiencing some of the places mentioned above. And undoubtedly
other important stops you'd suggest. This is primarily a non-socializing
visit. I know that he doesn't want one of those hour-by-hour
VIP bashes, but would much prefer to set his own pace in line
with your suggestions. I have spent some time with Jim Michener
and can assure you a rare and rewarding experience with so
fine and thoughtful a person.
followed these guidelines in setting up an itinerary and interviews
over the five weeks. The busy schedule brought a private note from Jim's
secretary, Nadia Orapchuck: "A word of caution ...Mr. Michener is 71
years old and had a heart attack about twelve years ago. He is a vigorous
man, walks about three miles a day, plays tennis and we all have difficulty
keeping up with him. But it is important that some time be set aside
for a nap each afternoon, wherever possible, particularly in high altitude
and Bateman covered nine thousand kilometers and conducted 100 formal
and informal interviews. Each day Philip gave Jim a folder with photocopied
articles and background information on the day's activities, locations,
Simmer and Jack, Historical Society
In Search of South Africa, 308-312
Survey of Johannesburg Fort, Dec 1966
Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Dec 1957
Gold Fields of Soiuth Africa, Johannesburg
Place of Stone Age Man, 10, 1972
The trip went off without a hitch, including a dash up to the ruins
at Zimbabwe, driving hell for leather to catch up with an armed convoy
on a road under siege in the guerilla war then raging in the former
his letters from South Africa, Jim remained upbeat about the course
set for the novel.
I have encountered nothing so far to divert me from the general
outline we speculated upon in Maryland and suppose, from this
halfway point that I will not come upon any real disturbances.
What I am finding is a wealth of supportive material on the topics
germane up to this point, and suppose that I will continue to
do so for the rest of the trip and for the rest of the outline.
In other words, it stands pretty much as devised, and there are
practically no blind spots upon which we fail to get the information
we need. (You will understand, of course, that we have touched
upon only some of the topics, but they do cover, many of the toughest
problems, so there is reason to expect similar reinforcements
all the way along.)
I do not yet have a clear picture of how the English settlers
fit into the total picture, but I am sure that will fall into
place once we get down to it. Right now, they appear so interesting
in England that I may leave them there and tell the reader to
fit them in as he or she sees fit!
any rate, the work goes famously and by the time we finish I'll
have correspondents in every corner of the republic. I can hardly
wait to get back to Maryland to start serious work with Errol,
and on my own.
also offered asides on current Southern African events:
time a Rhodesian village is exterminated, and especially when the victims
are white, the South Africans do their best to be polite to visitors
and refrain from making any obvious remarks. But these things are having
a profound influence, and one would really like to know if Andy Young,
who is not stupid, could be onto something when he makes his wild accusations.
At any rate, it ain't dull over here, not when prisoners constantly
jump out of windows to escape interrogation, and when clergymen flee
to escape strange laws."
far as the proposed outline goes, all is falling into place.
I'm glad I didn't bring the actual outline with me, because
it's better for me to think about people and places in larger
frameworks, and allow the story to germinate on its own, but
the main lines seem to hold fast. I am working hard on the
English family and judge that I now have a workable solution.
I am happier than ever that I am not focusing on gold, diamonds,
Uitlanders or Jameson and feel quite sure that I'll adhere
to that. But next week we head to Natal and I may have to
do some serious rethinking of that problem.
hope that we could travel incognito proved fatuous. Wherever
we stop the press of the locality seeks us out, and the newspapers
from afar track us down. I am asked three times a day to put
the blast on Jimmy Carter and Andy Young but beg off on the
grounds that to do otherwise would be improper. And twice
a day I am asked to put the blast on Vorster (Prime Minister,
John Vorster) and his cabinet, and again I beg off
on the grounds that the Logan Act forbids this sort of thing.
At the deluxe hotel serving Zimbabwe, they don't fool around.
Next to the menu in each room they have a little tray containing
four free tablets of Philips Milk of Magnesia...
aspects of the book have now been investigated except the actual
scene of the farm, and Australopithecus; we'll deal with the
latter soon. I am ready to type out the first four chapters
and the last three. But what happens in between remains uncertain.
This obscurity is only because I haven't come to any kind of
grips with the characters or the sequences. I think a few days
concentrated with Errol on this, reviewing earlier decisions
and fitting them in, ought to provide a fairly clear concept.
At least I'm not worried...
had endless discussions with some very opinionated people, and
I at least know where South Africa is. A great verkrampte (conservative)
yesterday said that he thought it would be all right if the
English stayed, providing they learned Afrikaans, closed their
universities, sought no appointments to the armed services,
tried to place no one in the cabinet, and kept their mouths
shut. When I pointed out that they were citizens too, my advisor
replied, 'Not Really.'
But the place is glorious to see; people live extremely well;
blacks have it much better than in Zambia for the time being;
and only God would dare predict the future. It's a subject for
a powerful book, and I at least know the opening sentences for
each of the chapters. The filling in? Now that's another matter.
But we do have those complimentary Milk of Magnesia tablets.
11 August 1978
we approach the end of our long and arduous trip I have been
trying to think of whom in South Africa you might have found
to do the job better than Philip Bateman has done it, and I
conclude there could have been no one. He is a brilliant man,
witty, well-informed, of good disposition and amazing capacity
to keep things moving forward.
side trip to Rhodesia was most disturbing. About 500 miles in
a strict military convoy with numerous conversations with people
who feel that the end of the world is at hand. The killing goes
on day after day; people live within wire fences; no termination
is in sight; and after Independence on January 1 all on hand
predict an even worse situation, with various black groups fighting
for control of what is a glorious hunk of real estate. I've
had by accident deep conversations with four groups who have
fled Zambia, and they report that it is in total chaos... almost
unmanageable. (There were five groups, come to think of it,
and all reasonably sane.) Tony (Oursler) might consider an article
on what happens when a country turns back the clock; I have
reason to believe it's quite horrendous, and there seems a strong
possibility that Rhodesia will go the same way...
seem to have accomplished all I set out to do, plus scads of
additional bits which will fit into the big picture. I come
home with an immense amount of work to be done over the next
two working years, but I think I see a clear way in which it
can be done. The good feeling is that many persons who hear
of the project say that they wish it were completed now. This
augers well for the timeliness and the gravity; it would be
most appropriate if it were in print right now, but I suspect
it will be just as timely when and if it finally does appear.
Errol Lincoln Uys All materials are from my personal
archives, unless indicated otherwise. No items may be reproduced without
permission. Web site illustrations added to material.